Though it’s tempting to view online programs as self-sustaining extensions of traditional campus offerings, in reality, their ongoing success requires just as much attention. Online programs and all the supportive and technological resources that go along with them need refinement and redesign from time to time. If your school’s online programs are struggling, or if you’d simply like to take a more active role in monitoring what’s working and what’s not, here’s a quick overview of common challenges and techniques to gauge program health.
Common Program Challenges
Enrollment has plateaued or declined. A leveling off or decline in student enrollment is a sure sign that your online program is in need of serious review. Take a look at continuing student enrollment and new student numbers to see exactly where the issues lay. What programs aren't performing well? Get input from faculty and staff to hone in on specific issues that may be affecting the numbers. Is the curriculum not meeting student or industry needs? Is the Learning Management System (LMS) preventing students from being successful? Once you have a clear idea of what the issues are, you can develop an action plan to address each and get your program back on track.
Retention rates are down. Retention rates are an easy gauge of any program’s success. If your school’s online program isn't keeping students active and on a path toward graduation, it’s time to do a little digging. Take a look at retention rates over time; are there patterns and trends that might indicate you are having difficulty keeping students engaged? Begin by examining faculty participation and staff resource issues for clues that might steer you in the right direction.
Referral rates are down. Vibrant programs thrive, in part, by word of mouth. If current students aren't recommending their programs and referring friends and colleagues, it’s time to find out why. Students who aren't enthusiastic evangelists for the very programs in which they are enrolled will usually be more than eager to share the reasons why. Track referral numbers and if they’re declining, investigate the cause by going straight to the source — your students.
Ongoing Program Monitoring
Listen to student feedback. Regular and direct student feedback is a gift. Insights gleaned from real students sharing the successes and challenges of your school’s online program in real-time is pure consumer research gold. Study course evaluations at the end of each semester. What are the students’ impressions of instructors and courses? What are they struggling with? Categorize the issues in order of importance. What are the primary (most threatening to programmatic success) issues and what issues can be addressed longer-term?
For a broader view of student impressions, consider conducting an online student satisfaction survey once per term, annually or biannually. This is your chance to monitor student satisfaction and obtain feedback from students as they progress from course to course and from instructor to instructor. Keep surveys relatively short, direct, and choose the questions carefully. What information will help you build a better program? What feedback would you like to get that isn't solicited through other means?
Leverage social media tools. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — even Instagram, and Reddit to a certain degree — can provide valuable insights about your program instantly. Students are seldom more direct or honest as they are when sharing their opinions, challenges, frustrations, and successes with friends, family, and colleagues. Don’t ignore these important forums in your program monitoring efforts. Explore free social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite or SocialMention to track what folks are saying about your institution and your online program. With a little social sleuthing, you can turn information into action and resolve issues before they affect your bottom line.
With growing competition from public, private, for-profit, and non-profit schools, the stakes are high for everyone to keep their online programs relevant and top-of-mind in the marketplace. As students look for flexible curricula and valuable degrees with strong demand, online programs will only continue to grow and through that growth, require more focused attention. By closely tracking the gauges of success and listening to what students are saying both formally and informally, the smartest schools can stay ahead of the curve and provide enduring educational solutions that satisfy a wide range of needs. To learn more about how Enrollment Builders’ team of professionals can help manage or improve your school’s online program, call us at 513-518-7824, or request information here.